How safe rooms save lives

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The Crumbley’s safe room following the tornado  (Photo courtesy of the Crumbleys)

CULLMAN, Ala.In 2004, Keith and Deborah Crumbley were selected as part of a FEMA grant program to have a safe room installed at their home in the Simcoe Community. On April 27, 2011, their home took a direct hit from a F5 tornado and they credit the safe room with saving Deborah’s life, as well as other family members and pets.  

The Crumbleys consider themselves extremely lucky to have been selected for the safe room. Deborah explained, “We got ours in 2004 before the tornado. We had got the grant money. Every year you had to put in for it and that year they drew Keith’s name out on the courthouse steps. That’s how they did it back then.”  

After a round of severe weather on the morning of April 27, 2011 which caused major damage in Hanceville and one fatality, the Crumbleys continued to listen to reports that the worst was yet to come. With Keith at work, Deborah’s parents and son Matthew gathered with her at her house in preparation for it.  

That afternoon with the sirens blaring, they knew it was time to retreat to the safe room that was bolted to the floor of the garage. Deborah said, We were in it. My mom and dad, my son and me. We also had three cats in there with us when the tornado hit.” 

As the storm approached, Deborah felt safe as she calmed her mother who was feeling nervous. One of the three cats was not handling things well. Deborah laughed, “My son tells the story that the cat was running around the safe room like one of those motorcycles in the metal ball at the fair.”  

Deborah knew the storm was causing damage to her home as she sat in the safe room. She recalled, “We knew the garage was gone because the safe room actually has air holes and the trash was flying in. You could hear everything hitting the safe room, so we knew the garage was gone but we didn’t know the extent until we stepped out.” 

As they came out of the safe room, Deborah and her family were in shock as they realized that the safe room was the only thing that remained of the home. She said, “Everything was gone. You know, they tell you to get in the bathroom; well, we haven’t even found the bathtub. Our house was completely gone, and they say we took a direct hit.”  

Deborah and her family were saved by being in the safe room, but she would soon learn that her nextdoor neighbor lost his life during the storm.  

Although they could hear the debris hitting the safe room during the storm, they felt secure. The safe room, made out of ¼” steel, did have scuff marks from being hit with debris, but only had one small dent caused by being struck by Keith’s generator. Keith spray painted on the side of the safe room in orange, “April 27, 2011- Saved 4 lives- 3 Cats.” 

When they rebuilt their home, the Crumbleys had the same safe room installed inside it rather than in the garage. It has its own room just off the living room.  

Their safe room was installed by Alabama Safe Rooms and they explained that it was far more than just a storm shelter. Deborah said, “If we had an intruder in the house, we could get in there and deadbolt the lock and they couldn’t get to us. They couldn’t shoot us because it’s ¼” steel. It saves you from other things other than tornadoes, but it did save us from a tornado and I firmly believe we wouldn’t have been alive if we hadn’t had it.” Deborah said.  

It was suggested to the Crumbleys that they put together a time capsule. “We actually have a time capsule that we made and put in there that tells the story. So, if we ever sell the house and it went to somebody else, it tells the story of it saving our lives that day.”  

Safe rooms come in a variety of sizes and most of the rooms cost less than $10,000. Financing options are also available when purchasing a safe room. According to FEMA, test data from Stormsafe safe rooms like the Crumbleys showed the following: 

Stormsafe tested as a complete unit in Lubbock Texas by Texas Tech University Wind Science & Engineering Research Center. Stormsafe test results exceed FEMA 320 (taking shelter from the storm) guidelines requiring the shelter to resist a 15pound 2X4 missile (board) propelled by a 250 mph tornado. This missile speed correlates to 100 mph horizontally. Stormsafe door passed and exceeded three different impact test locations at the hinges and latches. Stormsafe design tested for wind load effects by an independent professional engineering firm. Stormsafe structural integrity exceeded FEMA 320 standards and would only be half stressed by a 250 mph (F5) tornado.” 

Deborah believes it is a lifesaving investment. “It brings peace of mind. Since we actually went through the tornado and our neighbor lost his life, you are more aware of storms. That day, some friends’ basement came down on them and they had to dig them out. With the safe room, I feel safe in there. It’s grounded so you can’t get lightning struck. Don’t get in your bathtub. I don’t trust bathtubs. We never found a piece of ours.” 

In conclusion, Deborah said, “We lived in a brick house and there was nothing left. It was flat. There was nothing left of the house. It was a wellbuilt brick house and we took a direct hit. If you take a direct hit, if you aren’t in a safe room, you’re not going to make it, I don’t believe. I am a firm advocate for safe rooms.” 

Last two-Keith Crumbley shows the safe room now in their new home (Photos courtesy of the Crumbleys)

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